Connecting with a professional athlete, man or woman, can be a valuable source of inspiration, motivation and determination. Former collegiate All-American and NCAA volleyball champion (with UCLA, 1984); U.S. Olympian (1988); and top pro beach player Liz Masakayan became my source. I was inspired while watching television during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Connecting with a professional athlete, man or woman, can be a valuable source of inspiration, motivation and determination. Former collegiate All-American and NCAA volleyball champion (with UCLA, 1984); U.S. Olympian (1988); and top pro beach player Liz Masakayan became my source. I was inspired while watching television during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. It was not only Liz’s amazing athletic abilities, but also the fact that she is Asian-American in a time with so few Asian-American athletes. When she went from indoor volleyball to beach volleyball, it was awesome to see photos and read about Liz as she evolved into one the best pro beach volleyball players on the professional circuit.
After high school, volleyball was not the focal point of my life anymore, so keeping up with Liz or volleyball was difficult to do. However, fast forward 17 years (while writing for Asiance Career),Liz Masakayan happens to be coaching USA beach volleyball players Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh who are currently ranked number 2 in the AVP rankings. Liz’s journey to the present is even more inspirational, influential and impressive as Masakayan has been able to successfully stay on top throughout her professional volleyball career. Read on to understand how Liz has been able to
accomplish this and more…
ASIANCE: When and how did you know volleyball was your passion and career path?
LIZ: Volleyball and beach volleyball were only one of the many sports I loved playing when I was growing up. I ran track for four years, but I really liked soccer and played more organized soccer than any other sport. Back then, colleges recruited from high schools, not clubs, and my high school didn’t even have a women’s soccer team. I helped form the first women’s soccer team at Santa Monica High my junior year, so as you can imagine, we weren’t that great. Meanwhile, my high school volleyball team won state championships, so I ended up being offered athletic scholarships in volleyball.
I never imagined that volleyball would be my career path since I just loved playing the sport and I was fortunate enough to get a free college education for it. Even when I left college in 1986 to play on the national team, so I could go to the ’88 Olympics, women’s beach volleyball was not a professional sport yet. When I left the team in 1991 it was, so I just naturally gravitated towards that since I played lots of beach volleyball growing up and when I had any free time. It wasn’t until 1994 when I moved to San Diego did I really consider myself a true professional athlete because that was the first time I could concentrate on that 100% of the time… without having another job and/or being in school.
ASIANCE: What is the toughest part about being a coach (especially with Elaine Youngs being a friend and former beach partner)? What is the difference in fulfillment you have being a coach versus a player?
LIZ: The toughest part about being a coach is traveling and being away from home so much. Since I have lived a life on the road for my whole adult life, it becomes harder and harder to have this lifestyle. Elaine and I have a very professional relationship even though I consider her to be a close friend. Having coached her at UCLA her junior and senior years (1991 and 1992), then playing with her for 3 years (1997-2000), and now coaching her for 4 years on the beach (2004 to present), I have a very good understanding of her, which makes it easier to coach. With that being said, it has not been a simple task since she is one of the most difficult athletes to play with and coach. This challenge with her is also the reason why she is a great competitor, not to mention a talented athlete.
The difference in fulfillment is much easier to deal with as a coach than an athlete. As an athlete, I was so hard on myself that it seemed as though I was hardly ever fulfilled. I constantly demanded so much of myself and wanted more and better results. I look back and feel as though it was so difficult to ever be satisfied because I was so consumed 24-7. Now as coach, I get my fulfillment from just helping my athletes be more comfortable and prepared, physically, mentally and emotionally. I enjoy this challenge and work hard behind the scenes, so when they step out on the court, I know I have done everything I can up to that point… the rest is in their hands. It is much easier to come home now, enjoy life, and leave my work at the office.
ASIANCE: When did you move to the US from the Philippines? Did race/ethnicity ever play a factor in how you perceived yourself/others perceived you as a female athlete on and/or off the court?
LIZ: I moved here when I was 4 ½. No, I don’t remember race/ethnicity ever playing a factor in how I perceived myself or how others perceived me. I played little league baseball for 4 years starting when I was 10… the first year they allowed girls to play. There were awkward times when I was one of a few girls on the team, and for a couple of years, the only girl. So, I would have to say that being a young girl playing sports in the 70’s was more of a factor.
ASIANCE: As a veteran athlete, what advice do you have in regards to progressing, evolving and staying at the top of volleyball or any sport?
LIZ: Well, progressing and evolving is much easier than staying at the top, even though it doesn’t seem that way from the outside looking in. That’s probably because most people don’t get to experience what the top feels like, not to mention staying there. With that being said, I would have to say that focusing on the present, the journey, the process is what’s most important. The results will come if you have a good balance and perspective, not just in sports, but also in life. Make sure you know what your purpose and intentions are behind what you are doing. You want to feel comfortable that it’s all good. And last, stay healthy! It doesn’t matter if you have the talent to be a world champion or a CEO of a big corporation… you will never get there or stay there without your health.
On the Beijing Olympics 2008: there are 3 other US teams that are trying to fill that second and last spot, so hopefully it will be my team.
ASIANCE: Aside from the surface and number of players, what are the main differences between indoor and outdoor volleyball? Why did you change to play professional beach volleyball as opposed to professional volleyball indoors?
LIZ: Let’s just start with that I have played many sports, and there is nothing that compares to the level of difficulty it takes to play beach volleyball… enduring the environment such as the wind and heat, being in shape to move and jump in the sand with only 2 people having no substitutions, and working closely together on and off the court with just one other person. There are so many differences between the beach game and indoors, one of them is the fact that because there are only 2 of you and no substitutions, you must be able to have all the skills. Otherwise, your weaknesses will be easily exposed. There is no hiding in the corner or on the bench because you can’t pass. In indoors you can specialize in just one skill for your role/position. Second, any doubles sport is by far the most challenging… it’s like a marriage. In singles, there is only you to blame, and with more than 2, your shortcomings can easily be masked by a few others. Beach volleyball is the only doubles sport that your teammate has to better the contact of their partner’s before the ball goes over the net. Therefore, teamwork, communication, and chemistry play a huge part in beach. Like I said, it’s just like a relationship… if it’s not my fault, it must be your fault, and if it’s not your fault, then it must be my fault. Here likes the biggest challenge in our sport and is usually the number one reason for partner switches (divorce).
The reason I did not play professionally indoors beyond the national team is because I was kind of burnt out on the indoor game after 3 years with high school and the club, 4 years in college and then 5 years on the national team. I had a few knee surgeries by then and also wanted to go back to school and finish my degree. I wasn’t even thinking of playing beach when I left the team… I just needed a break from volleyball altogether.
ASIANCE: It seems at this point (or is it official) you will be heading off with EY and Nicole Branagh to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is this something you’re excited about and why? Can you share your experience being a starter for the USA National team for the 1988 Olympics?
LIZ: Actually, qualifying for Beijing for Elaine and Nicole is far from official. There are so many great American teams that are trying to fill the 2 allowed USA spots that it may come down to the wire in July of 2008 as to who will be going. Right now, the number one team in the world is Kerri Walsh and Misty May from the US and because of their dominance this year, they have solidified a berth. But, there are 3 other US teams that are trying to fill that second and last spot, so hopefully it will be my team. I think I am more excited to get Elaine and Nicole to Beijing than I am about actually being at the Olympics. For the Americans, qualifying to get there can be more nerve racking than competing there. Most people don’t actually know this, but because of the country quotas, the Olympics are a diluted field with 24 teams and with no more than 2 teams per country. My team took 5th in the world championships this summer with 48 teams and with no more than 4 teams per country. There are 4 great Brazilian, German and US teams, while China has 3 great teams, all of which could easily make up more than half of the Olympics, but that is not allowed. So, I think I get more excited about the process and the Worlds more than the Olympics.
The experience at the Olympics was a bittersweet one for me. As much as I loved representing my country and was fortunate enough to go and play a big role on my team, we ended up having a poor performance in Seoul. At the time I didn’t know it, but when I look back, much of my National Team experience was far from productive. I was young and just worked hard at doing what I was told, and the most important thing I got from being on that team as well as other teams before that is what not to do as an athlete and a coach. Those were some valuable lessons and I am grateful for them.
ASIANCE: What is your life motto?
LIZ: Stay healthy and happy. I think they go hand in hand. When you are emotionally healthy, you are appreciative and happy, which helps keep you physically healthy.
ASIANCE: How many siblings are in your family. You mentioned they had a large impact on your interest/involvement in sports, how so?
LIZ: I have one older sister and two older brothers. Because we are all one year apart and all were very active, we did a lot together growing up, even if it meant just playing pickle in the alley or riding our skateboards and bikes. Plus having them all older and very talented athletes, I looked up to them. And there was no shortage of competition. I think the interest and involvement in sports came to all of us because my mom was raising four kids when we came to the states and we just spent our time staying active when she was working. Sports were the healthiest thing for all of us, especially when there was limited parental presence.
ASIANCE: Who has been your role model and why?
LIZ: I really never had a role model growing up or even now. Without having a father present, I guess my mom was my role model growing up, and when she wasn’t around, it was my coach at the time. A lot of who I am and how I do things comes from my experiences from my family and friends, as well as from sports.
ASIANCE: When you have time to relax, what are the top three things you enjoy doing?
LIZ: Because I’m gone so much, I like spending time at home catching up on projects and just normal life, which includes my boyfriend, friends and my cat. If I feel like being active, I like going on hikes with my girlfriends.
To get more details and keep up with Liz, please visit www.lizmasakayan.com